Ten Neglected Classics of Nursing Literature

IMG_2631Recently, The American Scholar had an article by their editors entitled “Ten Neglected Classics” (1-13-15).  As they state, “…the following books are works we think ought to be read by more people, works that we keep coming back to but aren’t talked about as much as we would like.” This article got me thinking about what books I would include on my list of ‘ten neglected classics of nursing literature.’

I quickly ruled out any and all of the Cherry Ames series. I did not grow up wanting to be a nurse and I never read any of the Cherry Ames nurse series until……okay…true confession: I have never been able to read any of the Cherry Ames books. But I do own one (the photo here is of the cover of the book I own, a 1948 edition of Cherry Ames Cruise Nurse, by Helen Wells). The concluding sentence of the book is the oh so enticing cliffhanger: “And somehow  she knew that although the cruise had come to a happy ending, her friendship with young Dr. Monroe had only just begun.” Someone should write a modern-day feminist kick-ass version of Cherry Ames , or perhaps a lesbian soft-porn version….. But I digress.

Any list of classics, including my list of Top Ten Neglected Classics of Nursing Literature, is highly subjective. Here are my inclusion criteria: 1) about nursing or have a strong lead character–or a strong and memorable character– who is a nurse; 2) books or at least novella-length works; 3) books/works I have read and have in my personal library to refer back to frequently; 4) are still in print/easily accessible; 5) be well-written enough and of wide enough appeal (as in not in a nursing ghetto) to be called literature; 6) not be by or about Florence Nightingale. Oh. I broke that last rule. The term ‘classics’ is also highly subjective, and I include books that have already stood the test of time, as well as more recent books that I believe will stand the test of time.

Here they are:

1) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Includes the legendary character of Nurse Ratched. I’ve written about her in a previous blog post ‘Nurse Ratched’s Backstory’ (7-16-13). I love Nurse Ratched.

2) God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet. Even though this book is mainly about physicians and hospitals, it also includes strong and memorable nursing figures, such as the hospital matron who knitted blankets for her patients.

3) Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. There are three book in this series but the first is by far the best.

4) The Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life by Mary Jane Nealon.

5) Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between by Theresa Brown.

6) I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse, edited by Lee Gutkind. Note: even though I have an essay included in this anthology, I do not receive any payment from sales of the book.

7) On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf along with Notes From Sick Rooms by (Virginia’s mother who was also a nurse) Julia Stephen.

8) Eminent Victorians (chapter on Florence Nightingale is hilarious and enlightening about this complex person) by Lytton Strachey.

9) Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses, edited by Cortney Davis and Judy Schaefer.

10) _______________________ I racked my brain and tore up my bookshelves in search of a tenth book worthy of being included in my list, but I have yet to find one. Please add your recommendations/nominations.

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